Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.
Nicholas Opiyo, a leading human rights lawyer and founder of the human rights organization Chapter Four Uganda, has worked tirelessly since 2005 to defend civil liberties in Uganda, often for free and on behalf of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized.
He grew up in Gulu, Northern Uganda, at the height of the deadly conflict between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army, trekking long distances to avoid abduction by the LRA.
The conflict is known for extreme brutality meted by both government and rebel forces, which have abducted thousands of civilians–including Opiyo’s sister, who spent several years with the LRA before escaping–to serve as soldiers, laborers, or sex slaves. After attending law school in Uganda, Opiyo channeled his childhood experience into a passion for defending human rights for all.
Opiyo has worked on a broad range of critical human rights issues in Uganda, and was a key leader in drafting and advocating for Uganda’s law criminalizing torture. In his practice, he has a diverse clientele, including anti-corruption and pro-democracy activists, the former LRA Commander Thomas Kwoyelo, and social media activists charged with offending the president.
He has successfully argued several high-level constitutional challenges, including the fight against the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013, which was declared null and void in August 2014. Opiyo has faced verbal attacks and even death threats for defending LGBT rights in Uganda.
He created Chapter Four Uganda in 2013 to sustain and allow him to take on high-profile litigation challenging new laws that restrict freedom of assembly and expression, among other rights issues. He is currently involved in challenging the Public Order Management Act and Anti-Pornography Act, which restrict people’s basic rights, and is defending several human rights activists facing criminal charges in Uganda.
Human Rights Watch honors Nicholas Opiyo for his unfaltering dedication to upholding the human rights of all Ugandans, including LGBT people, by challenging discriminatory laws and speaking out for universal human rights principles.